A massive amount of people aspire to conduct their search for a new home on HGTV's House Hunters: The reality show gets 100 to 200 applications per week. Couples and families who appear on the show are rewarded with a chance to find their dream home, not to mention a shot at reality TV fame. But is there money in it for them, too? The answer is yes—although the sum is probably much less than you think.
Would-be homebuyers are paid a mere $500 to appear on House Hunters—not even $500 each, but $500 per family. The budget per episode, on the other hand, is $45,000 to $50,000. Yup. The $500 stipend gets even more depressing when you think about how much time these couples have to put into the show: Each 23-minute episode takes about 30 hours to film, spread out over three to five days. Prospective homeowners spend six hours at each of the three houses. The rest of the time goes toward before-and-after interviews and footage capturing their daily life, from spending time with family to going to work. The Things broke the $500 payout down and found that a couple who films eight hours a day for five days makes a paltry $6.25 an hour per person. And speaking of work: People usually have to take days off from their jobs to film, so they potentially lose money by being on the show.
And we haven't even gotten to the time you spend applying before you even get cast. If your online application is selected to move forward in the process, next up is a phone interview, lots of paperwork, and shooting a 10-minute audition video. That's a lot of work. At least your meals are paid for when you're in production. One contestant revealed that the director paid for her family's lunch every day and even took them out to dinner one night. Plus, they got access to those sweet, sweet craft services snacks.
There is actually a contingent of onscreen personalities that get paid even less than the homebuyers: the realtors. But while they don't get that cold, hard cash, they get a ton of publicity.
It's common for reality show contestant stipends to be low. Of course, if it's a competition show, there are big payouts for the winners. Big Brother pays a weekly stipend of about $750 and then shells out a grand prize to the champion. American Ninja Warrior contestants don't get paid a penny if they lose.
So, what have we learned? If you're looking to make a fortune, don't bank on a career in reality television.
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